Sister Parish Reflections
2014 Honduras Trip Reflection
There are three emotions that stay with me, even several weeks after making my first trip to Honduras: unconditional love, joy, and gratitude. Visiting the people of St James the Apostle was unexpectedly similar to visiting my cousins in Latvia, my parents’ birthplace. These people had never met me, but they were eagerly awaiting us, and greeted me by name with a big smile and an even bigger hug. I was immediately accepted and offered love and friendship, solely because I am from St Monica, just as if I were a relative coming to visit for the first time. This feeling stayed with me all week long, while we were graciously hosted by the Carmelite priests and seminarians, accompanied by parishioners on our travels, and welcomed into the various communities we visited.
I witnessed joy in a people who have very little “treasure” but share their talent and their time in great measure. They praise God by making beautiful music, singing and dancing, learning enthusiastically and serving each other. Most memorable for me was after the 3 hour Pentecost Vigil mass, we all formed a circle and danced around the parish hall – a congregation so filled with the Holy Spirit that no one wanted the evening to end!
Lastly, our brothers and sisters at St James the Apostle are extremely grateful for what God has given them and what St Monica has done to help meet their needs. They went to great lengths to thank us by showing us how they have put our contributions to work, by proudly sharing their traditions and most importantly with their words and prayers. It was overwhelming to learn that they pray for us at all their masses and read the names of those who are sick and who have recently died from St Monica. With all the assistance we have provided over the years, I now know that what they give us is even more powerful, and that is offering their frequent prayers for us.
So I have resolved to hug my family and friends more frequently and more enthusiastically, to find joy in simple activities, and to give thanks every day for all the immeasurable ways that God has blessed me, including giving me the opportunity to visit our brothers and sisters in Honduras.
Lepaterique June 5 – 12, 2014
My husband Steve and I gave our 18 year old son Jason the trip to visit our sister parish in Lepaterique, Honduras as a high school graduation gift. We wanted him to experience a culture that was different from his privileged upbringing in the U.S. and we also thought it would be a great opportunity to use his three years of high school Spanish. Jason had an amazing time and if a miracle occurs, he may actually write about it.
The problem was that I also signed up to go with him and by far the biggest thing I packed in my baggage was fear. I’m an experienced traveler, but never to Central America, never when I didn’t plan the entire itinerary and never when I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to meet the physical demands of the experience since my fitness level post menopause and foot surgery was pathetic.
But the incredible thing about God is that He can take all of your fears and by enveloping you in His love not just help you face them, but turn them into spectacular gifts.
Because I was afraid I got to ride in the truck with Fr. Jose Antonio, Sr. Patty and Debbie Good who interpreted beautiful conversations about faith and vocations. Because I was afraid I made friends with Juan, the sweet man who lead my mule on the treacherous trek to and from our medical mission. Because I was afraid Jeimy, this beautiful 19 year old woman, worked with me as we determined the proper strength and handed out over 80 pairs of reading glasses. And because I was afraid I overcame the language barrier and learned to accept the boundless love from our brothers and sisters in Lepaterique.
At the Mass at St. Monica on the eve before our departure, Fr. Dustin spoke about how when we embark on a mission trip, we may think we are going to change the people or circumstances of our destination. But in fact we are really going to allow God to change ourselves. It’s too soon yet to see how my wonderful adventure in Honduras will impact my faith journey, but I have learned that when I step out in faith (and fear!) that God is waiting to change me to bring me closer to Him. And I also learned that the relationship we have with the people of St. James the Apostle really is built on love and our shared experience with Jesus in the Eucharist. If God ever places the desire to visit Lepaterique on your heart, I hope you’ll listen because along with joining the Catholic Church through RCIA and making a Cursillo weekend, it turned out to be one of most amazing spiritual experiences of my life.
Growing up at St. Monica, I had always heard petitions and announcements about our Sister Parish, Santiago Apostal, in Lepaterique, Honduras. I saw a group of people every third week of the month collecting free will donations for the Sister Parish and once a year I saw a group of strangers at church who traveled to St. Monica to visit with us for a week. Little did I know, these strangers would eventually become family and I would inevitably fall in love with the parish that is Santiago Apostal and the people living in Lepaterique.
Last summer I made my first visit to Lepaterique with a group of seven other youth. After we arrived in Tegucigalpa and dealt with customs, I walked out into the airport, trailing behind some of the other kids on my trip, and immediately people started coming up to me left and right, hugging me and kissing me and greeting me in Spanish. I was in shock as I had never been greeted like this by strangers. Throughout that week, happiness filled my heart and I built friendships with many people such as Daniel, Bayron, Elias, and Karen. As I said my final goodbyes at the airport security line, I knew without a doubt that I would be back the following summer.
Lucky for me I was blessed to be able to return this summer and this time I traveled with fifteen other adults from the parish. In the weeks prior to the trip I was a bit nervous because I was the youngest person traveling (well besides Jason). But this nervousness quickly faded when I once again stepped into the airport in Tegucigalpa, greeted by familiar faces. Daniel and Bayron, who I was able to stay in touch with over the year via Facebook, were there to greet Santa Monica and I was elated to be back with my dear friends. Throughout the week my friendships grew even stronger as we played games in Spanish on bus rides, or sat by the fire one night in Aguacate as the young men of Santiago Apostal played their guitars, sang, and told jokes that definitely do not translate to English humor.
The thing that never ceases to amaze me about Lepaterique is the fact that the people are the most joyous, loving and appreciative group of individuals that I have ever met in my life. Lepaterique is a town filled with poverty, and yet I have rarely heard the people complain about what they do not have, but instead they are incredibly grateful for what they do have. At the medical mission in Aguacate I was humbled by how appreciative the people were for something as simple as Tylenol, a medication I had never given a second thought about because I have never been without the ability to have it when I needed it. The people of Lepaterique have taught me how to be appreciative of the plethora of blessings in my life. They have taught me about selflessness, as countless times I observed Daniel’s acts self- giving. They have taught me about leadership as I witnessed Misael leading el grupo juvenil, and as I witnessed Brothers Randall and Bindel, serving as friends and models of faith to the youth.
In my two trips two Lepaterique I have learned so much about life, love, and faith. I will always hold my memories from the trips near and dear to my heart and I will forever be amazed at the beauty and love that exists because of the unity between our two parishes. I feel incredibly blessed to have been a part of this unique experience, as I saw God in everything and in everyone, from the beautiful mountains; to our trip to the Laguna; to the medical mission at Aguacate; and sitting in the truck bed with Nicki, Daniel, Pablo, Bayron and Jeimy as we spoke in gibberish, laughing as the rain poured down onto us. I love Lepaterique and the family that I have gained through the Sister Parish relationship and I absolutely cannot wait to see where God brings this incredible union in the future.